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Why did AT&T choose LTE-M over other LPWA technologies

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Why did AT&T choose LTE-M over other LPWA technologies

23-Nov-2017
AT&T recently completed deployment of their nationwide LTE-M network, can you tell me a little bit about this?

We deployed our nationwide LTE-M network in the United States in May 2017. We were the first telecom to announce the commercial upgrade of an LTE-M cell site in the US, and also the first to announce the successful demonstration of an LTE-M Voice over LTE (VoLTE) call. Along with that, we hit another milestone in Mexico -- the first international roaming data call between the US and Mexico using LTE-M.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you hope this network will be used for?

When it comes to deploying a new technology like LTE-M, it is important to make sure that it will be deployed effectively.  Of course, the network itself is important. But to have a viable commercial service you also need to have low hardware costs and give developers the tools to make the leap. We’re making a module available for as low as $7.50 – the lowest cost we’ve seen in the industry. And we offer an IoT starter kit that gives designers the tools to develop and prototype IoT devices for AT&T’s LTE-M network.

LTE-M will more efficiently enable a host of use cases, including the ‘on-off’ use case or the ‘full-empty’ use case. For example, the connected trash can -- when one trash can is full, it notifies the company that it needs to be picked up. This improves efficiency via route optimization and helps to control costs when employees don’t need to make unnecessary trips. By having a network like LTE-M, users can transmit a little bit of data at a time, increasing the number of verticals that can make use of this technology.

What were the factors that lead you to choose LTE-M over other technologies such as LoRa or NB-IoT?

What is common across all of the LPWA technologies is that they all offer extended battery life and improved coverage along with low cost modules. What we find unique to LTE-M is that it can support VoLTE, which is extremely important to the alarm/security industry and wearables markets. Another differentiator for LTE-M is its support of mobility. That is, you can move from site to site with ease, which is critical for many use cases, including wearables that I just mentioned.  And our LTE-M network offers a national footprint and carrier-grade security. Unlicensed technologies use shared frequencies which may be subject to increased interference.

Were there any challenges you faced which you encountered during the deployment of this network?

When you introduce a new technology like LTE-M, it is very important to bring together an ecosystem. You need network providers, module providers and chipset providers. And the technology needs to be made accessible across a broad section of use cases. This is truly how you can accelerate and introduce a new technology out to market quickly. A lot of new entrants try to come in with a new technology, but they don’t always bring together the entire ecosystem. This is one of the key advantages that AT&T does very well.

Can I ask you a little bit about the future of LPWA? What do you see as the future of LTE-M? Do you see it as a stand-alone technology or something that can work alongside other connectivity solutions?

We have been working with the LTE-M task force within the GSMA on global band support. We worked with the GSMA to create an LTE-M deployment guide. This should support creation of a global ecosystem.

What do you see as the future of LPWA for AT&T? Where are the biggest opportunities for partnerships and monetisation?

When you look at LTE-M, it can offer the superset of features that all of the other LPWA technologies cannot. There are a lot of debates in the marketplace around LTE-M vs NB-IoT, and right now, LTE-M has come into the market a little bit quicker. Currently, the benefits of LTE-M can achieve all of the different value propositions. If in the future we find that NB-IoT can achieve what LTE-M can, then we will evaluate whether to deploy it.

Where do you feel are the gaps in the LPWA market? (i.e. what challenges there still?)

This really is a brand-new technology that is just being introduced and rolled out globally. The challenge right now is to ensure the globalization of this technology. We have seen it not only in the US but also in Australia and in Southeast Asia and Europe. In 2018, we expect to see the maturation and globalization of LPWA, particularly LTE-M.

What vendors have you been working with on this deployment?

We are working with our network vendors as well as our module providers Sierra Wireless, Telit, u-blox and WNC. We also work with chipset providers like Qualcomm and Altair and several enterprises representing a broad cross-section of use cases including, Samsung, Capstone, RM2 and Telular.

The importance factor in a successful deployment and pilot testing, is to bring together the eco-system. AT&T is particularly successful in bringing together its ecosystem partners that allow us to introduce new technologies in a seamless way.

What are you most excited about for LPWA Americas?

I think LPWA Americas is one of the more unique environments, bringing together both the licensed and unlicensed LWPA solution providers all within the same room. This means you can really appreciate the differences and challenges that we all face. This is definitely unique to LPWA Americas.

Who would you most like to meet at LPWA?

We would love to see more and more enterprise show up, not only the solution and module providers, but also the end users and actual customers.

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